Like Melanie, I was really struck by your observation about the dream-like nature of the sex scene. Brilliant close reading! Kramer’s recollections are not always so dreamy and your post really has me thinking through the politics of crafting his stark realism as more formally fantastic. Of course, the visual appeal of this makes plenty of sense in the televisual context. One thing that I’ll give The Normal Heart, that is not as readily transparent in a film like And the Band Played On, is that one really gets a sense of the centrality of pleasure and desire at the time, even in the face of a politically fraught and complicated world.
Thanks for your post. Like Melanie and Andrew, I had never heard of this episode. I find the context of sports to be especially interesting here. Magic Johnson announced his HIV-positive status in 1991 and, perhaps not coincidentally, the player on the court in this clip is referred to as “Johnson.” Arthur Ashe went public with his status in April 1992. This is a really rich text and I hope you can do more with it in the future!
The film is certainly troubling in many respects (even Randy Shilts denounced some of its representations), but as I noted to Taylor, the partial truths of history make for an interesting viewing. I think two-and-a-half hours passes by very quickly. The fragmented history it presents works well for television production and consumption. And, yes, the Delany book is amazing!
Oh, you should watch the film. Despite my criticisms, it’s really compelling in its execution. I think this is why it makes so many scholars nervous - the truth it seems to convey is so easily consumable.
Thanks for your kind and productive comments, Kathy. I agree - the scene in The Normal Heart where Julia Roberts is standing before a room of unruly queers is eerily similar to the one that plays out here. The trope of social denial is strong in both and overlooks other campaigns and movements that were underway. In And the Band Played On it’s underscored several times over through problematic gay male representations. Bill Krause (portrayed by Ian McKellen) is seen as willfully ignorant of the unrestrained sexual tendencies of gay men, Gaëtan Dugas (“Patient Zero”) is portrayed as straight-up maniacal, and Eddie Papasano (played by Phil Collins) is opportunistic. There are certainly some sympathetic figures and ways to forge identification with queer characters, but the text does not make that process easy.
It fascinates me that several of our posts this week highlight moments from films spanning three decades that all demonize certain forms of sexual behavior—via those films, you can see a specific perspective on HIV/AIDS take hold and solidify. I probably should watch And the Band Played On even though everything I’ve read about it makes me think it will be an infuriating experience.
For a really different view of casual anonymous sex, I like Samuel Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (which you may know already). It’s part autobiography and part theorization of public space and community. I find it very compelling.
Oh wow! Have the writers/producers discussed this arc? So fascinating!
Thank you for pointing this out! I was thinking more of 1980s programs, but it’s fascinating that True Blood is doing a story arc considering that AIDS is not as much at the forefront of the public imagination/the media as it was during the 1980s.
I had never heard of Captain Planet before, so thank you for focusing on this series in your post. I’m impressed that this episode exists and aired across the country. Even though the episode carefully sidesteps any overt LGBT themes, I agree that there is plenty of queer (sub)text. Do you know any other children’s shows that had episodes on HIV/AIDS?
Our posts echo one another very nicely and we didn’t even plan for that!
I like your reminder that normalcy was once a radical thought. That’s easy to forget considering how widespread and nearly stifling the call for normalcy is today, especially in media representations.
I hadn’t noticed the different formal characteristics of the various sex scenes, so thank you for pointing out those differences. Your observations remind me of Philadelphia, which only has one very fleeting scene of gay intimacy (a flashback in which Andy recalls sex with another man in a movie theater), which is also filmed in a dreamlike, distancing way.
I’d say the reason why certain aspects of gay culture don’t count as normal today is precisely because they were reinforced as deviant during the AIDS crisis in the ’80s.